No one of us can deny that popular culture has mass acceptability and appeal. After all, it is the accumulation of cultural products like music, art, literature, movies, fashion, dance, television and radio, which is consumed and loved by all of us. But, what makes me sad is vitiligo’s underrepresentation in it.
It’s not a secret that about 1% of the world population is living with vitiligo. But, is there 1% representation of vitiligo in popular culture; of course, not. If popular culture was more inclusive of vitiligo, we wouldn’t have so much stigma and myths around the chronic skin condition. However, in the last 10 years, we have made some progress there. While many celebrities with vitiligo are still using makeup for playing characters in movies and TV, the advertising world is slowly warming up to having models with vitiligo.
Let’s see how much progress we have made till August 2018. What we can derive from the development is that we have a long way to go.
Art has a power to connect people across the world and spread the strong message of equality. Thankfully, that’s what many painters, photographers, muralist, and visual artists have started practicing. In the last few years many artists have started including vitiligo in their artworks. Some of these artists are Brock Elbank (Photographer), Alexandre Keto (Muralist), Fola David (Visual Artist) and Fatimah Abdulaziz Alkhaldi (Occasional Painter).
Movies and Television
So far, a few films, Nital, Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz and Imago have managed to feature a leading character with vitiligo. Deadpool 2 also featured a character (Domino) that appear to have segmental vitiligo . The only sad part is that the actress who portraying the character doesn’t have vitiligo. We wish, in the future, movie business use actors with vitiligo and showcase them for who they are and what they have. In 2020 and 2021 respectively, Netflix’s two movies – Cut Throat City and The White Tiger – featured important characters with vitiligo.
There are many actors with vitiligo who have been diagnosed with vitiligo, including Thomas Lennon, Jon Hamm, and Steve Martin. Sadly, many of them have not come out and spoke about the chronic skin disorder in public. Almost all of them have been working in movies and television using the makeup. The only exception, in this case, is Leleti Khumalo who has decided not to cover vitiligo with makeup. She was recently featured with her vitiliginous skin on Imbewu.
On the reality television front, Winnie Harlow has appeared as a contestant on the 21st cycle of America’s Next Top Model before breaking into the global fashion industry. Sara Stanford, a businesswoman from Kingston also participated in a business reality show – NCB Capital Quest and was placed 2nd for her enterprising spirit and great business acumen.
Probably Aravind Adiga’s novel ‘The White Tiger’ first featured any character with vitiligo in a book anywhere in the world. The critically acclaimed book that went on to win Man Booker Prize, had a character named “Vitiligo Lips” very important to the theme.
While many books have been written by vitiligo fighters, only Turning White: A Memoir of Change (by Lee Thomas) and A No-Nonsense Guide To Vitiligo (by Yan Valle) could reach its audience. There are many books representing children with vitiligo, including Snow White’s Seven Patches, Skin Deep, A Menina Feita de Nuvens and Different Just Like Me. But, sadly, not many people who are parenting a kid with vitiligo are aware of them.
Currently, Savannah J. Goins, a Novelist is writing a fictitious book that has a main character with vitiligo. If this gets materialized, this would be the first time when a character with vitiligo will appear in the literature. Savannah is currently researching and getting in touch with members of the vitiligo community to make the character a reality. “The character’s name is Jasmine, and she is about fifteen years old at the time of the story. She experiences the death of a loved one and other stressful things at the age of ten. This results in the appearance of vitiligo,” Savannah wrote to us in an email.
The writer is planning on highlighting Jasmine’s struggle as she does not have a supportive community around her; she is embarrassed by vitiligo and tries to hide it. “The fact that it is spreading scares her. She is teased relentlessly and has trouble finding friends. But throughout the story, she will discover that it is a beautiful trait and something to be proud of, not something to hide. I plan to show a lot of growth in her as a character through the changes in how she views her vitiligo,” the write reveals a few details.
Even though Michael Jackson had vitiligo, up until his death nobody associated his work with the chronic skin disorder. Sadly, it did not add to the representation of vitiligo at that time as he hid his condition in all music videos and stage performances. Today, many music artists are appearing in music videos without masking their vitiligo. These artists include Krizz Kaliko, Marcus Haran, and Swrap. Krizz Kaliko even named his debut album (Vitiligo) after the skin disorder.
Winnie Harlow was also featured in popular videos like Eminem’s Guts Over Fear and Beyoncé’s Lemonade. ‘Rescue Me’ a song by Thirty Seconds to Mars too featured a boy with vitiligo. “l Won’t Judge”, a song by Half Mile Home was released on June 23, 2018, to support vitiligo research. Ariana Grande’s new music video Boyfriend featured Mikey Foster an artist with vitiligo.
Visibility to vitiligo in advertising is getting better; thanks to models like Winnie Harlow and Amy Deanna whose popularity made some popular brands celebrate some of our common “imperfections.” The fashion brands that have included vitiligo in their advertising (some way or other) are Rebecca Violette, Missguided, Diesel’s (high-energy campaign), Desigual (Say Something Nice campaign), Parfait, Aliesha Renea, Gillette Venus, Primark and Marc Jacobs.
Slowly, mainstream beauty brands, too, are warming up to the idea of featuring a model with vitiligo in their ad campiagns. CoverGirl’s ad for its TruBlend foundation featured Amy Deanna, a black model with vitiligo. Aerie (a lingerie retailer and intimate apparel brand) and Dove (with its #ShowUs campiagn) also challenged conventional beauty standards and featured a model with vitiligo in its recent campaign.
Games and Toys
Companies like American Girl, Hello Hijab, and Naturally Perfect Dolls have already started making dolls of different races and genders. Kay Black aka Kay Customz’s doll collection took this inclusiveness to the next level. She has created dolls with vitiligo to encourage kids with the skin disorder to be proud of their uniqueness. Early in 2020, Mattel introduced a Barbie with vitiligo, breaking its own idolized stereotype of Barbie.